Archive for the 'TV: 1990s' Category

10
Dec
12

Knightmare celebrates 25 years

Knightmare at 25

With most old TV shows I find it hard to believe I was watching them 25 years ago; surely I was far too young to even know what a TV was 25 years ago?! Sadly, I was probably happily watching telly 35 years ago, I just don’t like to admit it to myself.

Anyway, the point of this brief post is to point you in the direction of a nice little reminder of days gone by, when after school TV consisted of series like Blue Peter, Tony Hart in his gallery, Grange Hill and some teenage reporters on the Junior Gazette (I will get around to a Press Gang post one day).

Joining their ranks was ITV’s Knightmare, a fantasy adventure game which took invited children to don a helmet and make their way through a cunningly designed dungeon, under the guidance of Treguard (Hugo Myatt), a friendly(ish) dungeon master.

Each week a team would move from room to room, with the helmet-clad child, the dungeoneer, taking instructions from his or her teammates in another room. They watched proceedings from a monitor and advised their friend which direction to take or how best to interact with the various denizens of the dungeon.

It was a simple enough premise but one which was captivating. Judging from an article on Knightmare.com, I probably watched every season of the show, I certainly remember most of the characters and changes to the basic set-up. I’ve not seen an episode years but would welcome an extras-laden DVD set of the first series if anybody fancies making one.

In the meantime, the owner of Knightmare.com, James Aukett, has done fans proud by making his own documentary to celebrate the programme’s 25th anniversary. James has interviewed many of the cast and crew, including Myatt and creator Tim Child, for this internet-only production, and he’s done a grand job with zero budget and a lot of love for the subject.

Thanks James, you’ve made an old(ish) fan very happy!

13
Feb
12

Tom Baker returns as The Doctor

A friend pointed me in the direction of this Doctor Who-themed clip over the weekend, a series of short ads for New Zealand superannuation services featuring Tom Baker in full-on Fourth Doctor mode.

The ads were made in 1997, long before the return of the show to BBC One in 2005, and I wonder how much they had to pay for the rights to use the character and the music.

Tom’s on fantastic form and it’s evidence, if it was needed, that he’s still got what it takes to play the role. Here’s hoping the BBC decide to bring him back for next year’s 50th anniversary celebrations…

12
Sep
11

Chris Jury on Lovejoy: ‘It was innocent, rural, funny and nostalgic’

Dudley Sutton, Ian McShane, Chris Jury and Pyllis Logan

As an actor, writer, director and producer, Chris Jury may have worked extensively in film, theatre and televison, with directors as diverse as Anthony Minghella and Danny Boyle and on series such as Doctor Who and EastEnders, but it’s as Eric Catchpole on BBC One’s Lovejoy that he’s perhaps best remembered by the British public.

Having recently reviewed the re-released complete Lovejoy on DVD, I spoke to Chris about his memories of working on the top-rated programme which baffled TV producers but viewers couldn’t get enough of.

Jonathan Melville: How did you first come to audition for Lovejoy?

Chris Jury: In 1985 I was in a play at The Bush Theatre on Shepherds Bush Green next to the BBC drama offices. They couldn’t find Eric and a secretary in the office saw me in the play and suggested they came and saw me. I was then interviewed by the director Baz Taylor. I heard nothing for three weeks so assumed I had not got the part and accepted a job in Glasgow as Assistant Director to David Hayman for theatre company 7:84.

I was then called back into meet Ian McShane, producer Bob Banks-Stewart, writers Dick Clement & Ian La Frenais, executive producer Alan McKeown and director Ken Hannam. It was terrifying! I was offered the job the next day and had to drop out of the directing gig with 7:84.

The rapport between yourself, Ian McShane, Dudley Sutton and Phyllis Logan seems genuine – did you enjoy making series one?

Chris Jury todayAll the series were a joy to make. Ian, Dudley, Phylis, Malcolm Tierney and I got on like a house on fire. My abiding memory of filming Lovejoy is laughter and friendship. It doesn’t happen very often. I was very lucky. To this day I regard all four of the regulars as among my dearest friends.

Were you all set to return for a second series in 1987 or was it clear early on that the first series might be the only one?

We were hopeful of a second series in ’87 (which would have been filmed in ’86) but the BBC made Executive Producer Alan McKeown an offer he couldn’t accept and all power to him he walked away. The deal’s the thing you see. That’s why Alan is as rich as Croesus and I’m skint.

When did you learn that the programme would finally be returning?

In spring 1989 Michael Grade left the BBC to go to Channel 4 and within three weeks Witzend, Alan’s company, contacted my agent and we were back on. The deal was finally done in the Autumn of ’89 to start filming 10 eps from Easter 1990.

1993 saw two seasons and a Christmas special air, quite unusual for a BBC drama. Did you sense the BBC were particularly fond of the show at that time?

No. I always felt many of the metropolitan TV industry types were slightly embarrassed by Lovejoy. It wasn’t cynical, urban, edgy or cool enough for them. like Heartbeat and Last Of The Summer Wine, it was innocent, rural, funny and nostalgic – and of course immensely popular with the public! My own taste is for drama that engages more directly with the contemporary world but I could appreciate Lovejoy for what it was and that it was done extremely well. The scripts were brilliant!

This sneering metropolitan attitude crops up even now and the show is the butt of jokes from the likes of Catherine Tate and Little Britain who portray the show as a talisman of an unsophisticated middle-England. Very patronising.

Continue reading ‘Chris Jury on Lovejoy: ‘It was innocent, rural, funny and nostalgic’’

09
Sep
11

DVD Review: Lovejoy The Complete Collection

With scripts as well crafted as a Chippendale, performances as finely tuned as a Stradivarius and a production history more complex than the workings of a Thomas Earnshaw timepiece, Lovejoy arrives on DVD to once more charm viewers who have missed the series since its departure from TV screens in 1994.

Adapted for the small screen by veteran scriptwriter Ian La Frenais, who took Jonathan Gash’s rather earthy novels and made them acceptable for a mainstream audience, season one aired on BBC One in 1986.

That series introduced the character of East Anglian antiques dealer and ‘divvie’, Lovejoy, as played by Ian McShane in full-on rogue mode. Aiding and abetting are wily Tinker (Dudley Sutton), nice-but-dim Eric (Chris Jury) and the delectable Lady Jane Felsham (Phyllis Logan), while hindering Lovejoy in his plans to make a tidy profit on each deal is the panto villainesque Charlie Gimbert (Malcolm Tierney).

Slightly closer to the books in those first 10 episodes, the first year established the type of story offered up by La Frenais and his fellow writers; a mystery involving a rare antique draws in Lovejoy, with a dash of humour and the odd aside to camera helping things rattle along at a fair old lick.

Thanks to an unfortunate rights snafu, and a short trip to Dallas for McShane, season two didn’t appear until 1991, by which time Gimbert had gone but the rest of the gang were still available for more of the same. For the next few years it was as if nothing had happened, Sunday nights enlivened by preposterous plots and a cast of recognisable British thespians – including Sir John Gielgud, Brian Blessed, Bill Travers, Joanna Lumley, Richard Griffiths, Michael Kitchen and Donald Pleasance – drifting in and out of each episode to add a touch of class to proceedings.

By 1993 the series was a bone fide BBC hit, with season four running from January until April and season five from September until November, with a US-set Christmas special thrown in for good measure. Sadly, nothing lasts forever, and season five would see two of the leads leave, only for a new cast to be phased in and the dynamic change. Lovejoy may still have been loveable but the world around him was different.

Comprised of self-contained episodes for the majority of its run, the last year would see the makers build on the romance between Lovejoy and Charlotte (Caroline Langrishe), even if his heart was always with Lady Jane.

Bringing every episode together, with the original music present and correct for the first time, this set takes the viewer into a world where it’s permanently summer, every antique shop hides a lost treasure and friends conspire to help and hinder each other before making up with a pint in the pub and move on to the next dodgy deal.

Continue reading ‘DVD Review: Lovejoy The Complete Collection’

17
Apr
11

Freaks and Geeks reunion at the Paley Centre

It was in Australia in 2000, while I was backpacking for a year and had very little chance to watch much new TV, that I stumbled across an episode of Freaks and Geeks for the first time.

It wasn’t immediately clear what year it was set in or if there was any arc to the series which meant I wouldn’t be able to work out what was going on with just one episode, but what was obvious was that this was Something Different.

Set in Michigan in 1980, the series follows the lives of schoolkids who are simply trying to get their grades and avoid the humiliation that comes with being a teenager. Split roughly into two groups of the freaks (those kids who were always smoking in the toilets and who never bothered to study) and the geeks (the Bionic Woman-loving kids who watch from the sidelines as their cooler contemporaries got drunk and got the girls), the series was created by Paul Feig and executive produced by Judd Apatow. Yes, that Judd Apatow.

Though Freaks and Geeks must rank as one of the most acutely observed, beautifully written, well acted and all round near-perfect series made for television, it only lasted 12 episodes before it was pulled from the air. The other six episodes eventually made it to TV, but it was too late. The series, like so many teenage dreams before it, had died.

A funny thing happened though. In 2007, Time magazine added it to their 100 Greatest Shows of All Time, as well as placing it third on their list of the greatest television shows of the 2000s, just behind The Wire and Lost. In 2008, Entertainment Weekly ranked it the 13th-best series of the past 25 years.

Many of its stars, including James Franco, Seth Rogen, Jason Segal and Linda Cardellini went on to have bigger careers and Apatow created a comedy genre of his own.

Elsewhere, TV fans around the globe heard it was pretty good and bought the DVDs or borrowed them off their friends. At least, any friends that were brave enough to let their Freaks and Geeks DVDs out of their site. I think I’ve only managed it once, and that was before I hassled Judd Apatow to sign the set while he was in Edinburgh a few years ago.

The point of all this was really just to say that some video from a recent reunion at the Paley Centre in Los Angeles is now online, both official and fan made over on YouTube. Only 11 minutes of the official stuff can be seen on the Paley website, but it’s better than nothing.

Enjoy, and please head over to Amazon to buy the DVDs (if you can afford them, sadly they rarely come down in price).

There’s also some footage from the Freaks and Geeks “sequel” series, Undeclared:

14
Feb
11

Remembering Stephen J Cannell

“So that’s it. Cue the end music. Roll the production logos. Bring up the final end card and we’re at: The End.” The final words in Stephen J Cannell’s last novel, The Prostitutes’ Ball

There’s been something missing on this blog for a while now, something I’ve been acutely aware of but which, thanks to time pressures, I knew I wouldn’t be able to do justice to: a tribute to TV producer Stephen J Cannell.

It was last September that the man who created/co-created/produced/wrote/directed series such as The A-Team, The Rockford Files, Hunter, The Greatest American Hero, Stingray, Wiseguy, The Commish and many, many more died at the age of 69.

I’ve noted before that one of my earliest TV memories is watching The Greatest American Hero at the age of five while in Brisbane, Australia. My family had emigrated there in 1982 for what would turn out to be a very short time (we didn’t see the year out Down Under), but certain things linger in the mind. Barbeques. School assemblies. Ralph Hinkley in the red jammies.

A combination of Joey Scarbury’s annoyingly brilliant music and some fast-paced action with a healthy dose of humour meant that to my mind it was televisual manna from heaven, far better than most of the cartoons being thrown my way. At least, I assume that was the thought process. After thirty years things get a little hazy.

A few years later, now back in Scotland, we had a weekly adventure for The A-Team on ITV to look forward too. These days I’m a big Doctor Who fan and I now realise that I was missing the good Doctor each Saturday on BBC1 as I waded through the adverts on The Other Side to see what Hannibal, Faceman, BA and Murdock were getting up to. But The A-Team was shiny and fresh and you could play with the toys in the garden or at being the characters at school. Nobody spoke about Doctor Who back then.

Since then I’ve stumbled across various US series that grabbed my attention and stuck in the mind, usually thanks to their wit and action scenes. Episodes of Hunter and Renegade, mostly only half-watched, screened late night while at school. James Garner in the Rockford Files on weekday afternoons while at university. Repeats of Riptide at 3am on weekends on Channel 5, again while at uni.

What I didn’t realise for a long time was that all of these programmes had something in common, namely Stephen J Cannell. Born in Los Angeles in 1941, Cannell may have had severe dyslexia but he graduated from the University of Oregon in 1964 with a degree in journalism.

It was in 1968 that Cannell sold his first TV script to Universal for the Robert Wagner series, To Catch a Thief. After a few years as a jobbing scriptwriter, Cannell rose through the ranks of TV to end up one of the most powerful men in Hollywood, running his own independent studio and bringing numerous hit series to our screens.

I spent some of Christmas 2010 watching the Archive of American Television’s excellent interview with Cannell, which takes around three hours to get through but which offers a fascinating look into the mind of the man and his dedication to the writing process.

I could go on for multiple blog posts about the skill behind Cannell’s work and the way he makes it all look so simple. He admitted that much of his action/adventure output was targeted at the average Joe who gets home after a hard days work and who wants to be entertained by his TV set. Cannell was happy with being part of mainstream and so were his viewers.

Interestingly, while my love of Cannell shows hasn’t wavered over the years, my own interest in the mainstream has. It’s dangerous to generalise about TV in 2011, but I’ll have a go anyway. While the odd piece of scripted television still comes along that has the power to entertain, excite, scare, chill or in some other way engage the audience, much of it is simplified to the point of being offensive.

A Cannell show may have been dumb fun, but it was never dumbed down. Cannell was happy to keep things looking simple on the surface, but there was usually something more going on beneath. Just watch one of his Rockford’s, where a plot may begin like a standard private eye show before spiralling off into something much odder and always unique.

Continue reading ‘Remembering Stephen J Cannell’

31
Dec
10

STV celebrates its Hogmanay legacy on YouTube

As the last few hours of 2010 ebb away and revellers around the globe prepare to enjoy New Year’s Eve, or Hogmanay as it’s known officially here in Scotland (it’s against the law to call it anything else – do so and you’re force-fed battered Mars Bars and cans of Irn Bru for the first week of the new year), I thought I’d share with you some examples of past celebrations from Scottish broadcaster, STV.

I’ve mentioned here before that for the past few months I’ve been working with the channel to bring some archive series to YouTube, and a few weeks ago I was able to witness some scenes of revelry from bygone eras as Hogmanay specials were liberated from the vaults and digitised.

The first programme available to watch in full comes from STV’s first year of service in 1957, as producer Rai Purdy and presenter Gordon Arnold give viewers “a wee peek” of the live broadcast from Glasgow Cross in A Guid New Year from Glasgow. Purdy, a newcomer to Scotland, offers an insight into what Hogmanay is all about while seemingly directing proceedings from the STV nerve centre in Glasgow’s Theatre Royal.

With a look back at news footage from 1957, music from the Phoenix Choir, interviews with members of the public, an appearance from comedy due Mike and Bernie Winters and a glimpse of a Glasgow tram, this is a fascinating glimpse of the past which it’s hard to believe still exists.

From 1957 we jump forward to 1978 for Out With the Old in With the New, a frankly astonishing disco-infused concoction hosted by former-Saint, Ian Ogilvy, who introduces us to some “wonderful Scottish girls” in the shape of Janet Brown, Beryl Reid, Amy MacDonald, Una McLean, Marie Gordon Price, Annie Ross, Molly Weir and the lovely Lulu. There are also appearances from Rikki Fulton and Johnny Vivian, the latter introduced in a rather unique way.

With a few comedy sketches (look out for Rikki Fulton at 23.45) and some song and dance routines which are so OTT that they make Strictly Come Dancing look like a dull weekend in Bognor, this is the sort of programme you knew probably existed but didn’t quite believe ever did.

It all ends with a mass dance number headed up by Molly Weir, with Ogilvy given a ribbing by a few of “the girls” for not being Roger Moore. Brilliant. No, really it is.

Moving onwards to 1983 and we’ve got a The New Year Show hosted by comedian Andy Cameron in front of a bemused audience. Kenneth McKellar, The Alexander Brothers and The Scottish Fiddle Orchestra are on hand for musical entertainment, all held together by Cameron’s jokes.

We’re on the set of STV show Thingummyjig for The New Year Show 1985 as Russ Abbott makes an appearance with a song which screams 1985 from every syllable. Allan Stewart tells a few gags while Lena Zavaroni and Sydney Devine are on hand for a few more songs. Abbott returns to close the show with a rendition of You Cannae Push Your Granny Off A Bus (yes, really) before the whole thing implodes and a nation weeps.

The three most interesting Hogmanay shows come in the shape of the 1990, 1991 and 1992 programmes. Clearly tired of the perception of Hogmanay as an excuse for fiddle music, STV took a new approach by creating mini dramas around the festivities, recruiting actor and writer Alex Norton for script duties.

Norton decided to go a bit meta for these, with 1990’s A Guid New Year opening on a traditional scene of wee Stewart Anderson performing from the Cowcaddens studios, before pulling back into the flat of old Granny McFaddyn where she’s enduring Hogmanay on her own.

Granny is then awoken by the arrival of actor James Macpherson (Taggart’s Mike Jardine) at her door, who invites her downstairs to a party attended by various STV celebrities of the day, including Mark McManus, Elaine C Smith, Forbes Masson, Johnny Beattie and The Corries. And Sydney Devine.

Continue reading ‘STV celebrates its Hogmanay legacy on YouTube’




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